Robert Samuelson: Goodbye, readers…

As regular readers know, I write on the economy and its connection with society and politics. Over the years, I’ve explored dozens of subjects: recessions, inflation, executive pay, budget deficits, climate change, poverty, the welfare state, trade, taxes, aging, cybersecurity, China, the stock market — and many others. So far as I can tell, nothing that I have written has ever had the slightest effect on what actually happened. A long period of solid economic growth — labeled the Great Moderation by economists — fueled easy credit, shaky loans, defaults and insolvent lenders. Goodbye and good luck — you’ll need as much help as you can get.

Har!

Robert J. Samuelson wrote a twice-weekly economics column. Both appeared in the Washington Post online, and one usually ran in The Washington Post in print on Mondays.

Convert coal-fired power plants to zero-emissions “Lego” blocks


New jobs for old coal-fired generating stations

…A new energy storage technology invented in Australia could enable coal-fired power stations to run entirely emissions-free.

The novel material, called miscibility gap alloy (MGA), stores energy in the form of heat. MGA is housed in small blocks of blended metals, which receive energy generated by renewables such as solar and wind…

The energy can then be used as an alternative to coal to run steam turbines at coal-fired power stations, without producing emissions. Stackable like Lego, MGA blocks can be added or removed, scaling electricity generation up or down to meet demand.

MGA blocks are a fraction of the cost of a rival energy storage technology, lithium-ion batteries.

If our electricity grid is to become emissions-free, we need an energy storage option that’s both affordable and versatile enough to be rolled out at massive scale – providing six to eight hours of dispatchable power every night.

MGAs store energy for a day to a week. This fills a “middle” time frame between batteries and hydro-power, and allows intermittent renewable energy to be dispatched when needed.

RTFA for the operational details. Cost of conversion and operational lifetime for these blocks are a couple of serious advantages the system offers. Looking forward to the pilot plant tests…starting the second half of 2021.

Thanks, Honeyman

Hard to find dumbbells in GOUSA

I know. I know. Just turn on the telly and watch the Republican Convention in action. This ain’t about that. 🙂


Even a $400 set like this from NordicTrack

Dumbbells, like Nintendo Switches, yeast, and bidets, are one of those things that have become extremely popular during the pandemic and extremely hard to find. People are spending more and more time at home, and they’re buying things they never needed or possibly wanted before. The sudden surge in demand has created shortages of the most seemingly disparate things.

For gym-goers, obtaining your own weights and working out from home had always been a possibility. But justifying the purchase was hard, especially with the rise of gyms and boutique fitness studios.

The pandemic swung the pendulum the other way — so much that it’s hard to rationalize going back before a vaccine is created. Depending on where you live, gyms may not be open (which has led to the rise of “speakeasy” gyms), and disconcerting research shows that they are looking more and more like coronavirus hot zones. Working out from home with dumbbells — for one reason or another — seems like the future of fitness. Just as soon as you can get your hands on some.

95% of the world’s dumbbells are manufactured in China. You better believe they’re working overtime to catch up with demand. They are weeks behind. They were months behind. And they’ll catch up; hopefully, before you take up speed crocheting or something equally arcane.

The Punk in the White House is clueless over the damage he’s causing over the Post Office


Putting the USPS in a deep freeze benefits no one
Matthew T Rader/Unsplash

A country that doesn’t hesitate to drop $700 billion on its war machine now finds itself quibbling over $10 billion to run a very essential service. Of course, a lot of this talk about shrinking the United States Postal Service has nothing to do with its budgetary shortfalls. It is yet another example of short-term political opportunism. USPS might as well stand for United States Political Shitshow…

It might be hard for politicians and their lackeys to see, but the postal service brings more than ballots and postcards. USPS plays a significant role in the US economy. Any actions against it have ramifications for businesses of all sizes. If there was any doubt, the pandemic proved that USPS is an essential service. It kept the country’s almost moribund economy moving, albeit at a sputtering pace.

The pandemic has made online commerce an incredibly significant part of our society. People across the demographic spectrum are now using some kind of online shopping. And many of those packages are delivered by our postal service. According to The Washington Post, “Week to week, package deliveries increased 20 to 50 percent in April compared with the year-ago period, and 60 to 80 percent in May.” If the package volume stays 15 percent over average, the USPS might not need further cash bailout…

USPS is part of the new future of retail. Main Street is no longer just on the street. Thanks to tools like PayPal, Shopify, WooCommerce, and Square, it is also online. And it needs USPS to do business.

Amazon can — and is — building their own logistics and delivery system. Not everyone can do that. All those politicians who complain about Amazon’s monopoly forget that the only way to fight the giant is to arm many David’s with slingshots. USPS is that slingshot. Instead of thinking about shutting down or shrinking USPS, we need to really work hard in helping it adapt to Mail Service 2.0..

Everything Om writes is readable. He could do my grocery list and I’d probably get home from town earlier – with money left over.

There’s lot to learn in his post on the USPS. Dimbulbs like the Fake President will never get it. But, the voting public has time before the next election to understand more about a stupid decision made for the grimiest of political reasons.

VW to add Electric Vehicle engineering, development, production to US operations

Volkswagen announced plans to add electric vehicle engineering at its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The German automaker mentioned plans to develop cells and battery packs at the US plant.

The German automaker has been hard at work developing its next-generation electric cars based on its MEB platform. Much of the work happened in Germany, where VW already converted a factory to electric vehicle production.

By 2022, they plan to bring their MEB electric vehicles to the US and produce them there. Now they are also building a new electric vehicle factory next to their existing plant in Chattanooga. The German company is now announcing that it will also engineer EVs in the country.

Makes logistical sense. Means more employment for all levels, all classes of workers in the new automative and transport industry in the United States. They join the ranks of foreign and domestic manufacturers who see a global future in renewable-fuel vehicles.

Our politicians continue their Maypole dance around the White House dunce.

Feds get ruling from 1948 overturned – you may end up with ONLY DisneyPlex theaters


A choice of one

If you went to the movies in 2019, you probably saw a Disney movie. Seven of the top 10 highest-grossing films released in the United States last year were distributed by the House of Mouse, and hundreds of millions of people went to see them on thousands of screens. Some weeks it felt like the entire film industry was Disney: Captain Marvel and the rest of the Avengers (Endgame) competed for your attention for a while, as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Toy Story 4 kept up a steady drumbeat of animation until Elsa dropped back onto hapless households in Frozen II. In amongst that morass, though, there were still other movies shown, many of them popular with audiences and critics alike.

But now, the rule that prevented a studio from buying up a major theater chain is gone—opening up the possibility that your local cinema could go whole hog and become a true Disneyplex before you know it.

In isolation, the decision could raise some concerns. In a world where theaters are decimated thanks to a pandemic and consolidation among media firms is already rampant, the future for independent theaters looks grim.

But, hey…if Disney suits your comfort level of sophistication, daring and intellectual challenge, you’ll have a few more choices. Maybe 10 out of 10.

Big win for bunkers!

Yeah, I know the video says menhaden. That’s the correct name. But, my sister and I grew up subsistence fishing with our father on the southern New England coast. We saw bunkers cram into our harbors and inlets, every now and then, trying to get away from the big guys who wanted them for a meal in a mouthful.

I will remember to my dying day the one time a killer whale followed a school of bunkers into our favorite harborside spot, early morning on a pier jutting out a quarter-mile from shore. Woo-hoo! Biggest fin I ever saw sticking up through little harbor waves. And when he left after his snack, we just packed up and went home. Even if there were stragglers of any species left, they were too scared to come out and try to eat anything.

State revenue from marijuana is hazy at best

…Now that 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, officials are grappling with projecting collections from a new sin tax. Forecasting revenue from a product that was illegal just a few years ago, and remains so under federal law and in most states, presents a unique challenge for state budget planning. For example, in Nevada’s first six months of collecting marijuana taxes, revenue came in 40 percent higher than budget officials expected, but in neighboring California revenue was 45 percent below projections in the first six months of collecting marijuana taxes.

And with more states considering legalizing marijuana, forecasting and budgeting difficulties for revenue from recreational marijuana taxes are likely to become widespread. These challenges have consequences: If tax collections come in below forecasted amounts, for example, programs that are funded by these dollars could suffer.

The Yellow Brick Road may be paved with nothing more than yellow bricks instead of the gold forecast by libertarian optimism. Don’t spend it before you get it, folks!

100 degrees F in Siberia!


Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

The Arctic heat wave that sent Siberian temperatures soaring to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the first day of summer put an exclamation point on an astonishing transformation of the Arctic environment that’s been underway for about 30 years.

As long ago as the 1890s, scientists predicted that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to a warming planet, particularly in the Arctic, where the loss of reflective snow and sea ice would further warm the region. Climate models have consistently pointed to “Arctic amplification” emerging as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.

Well, Arctic amplification is now here in a big way. The Arctic is warming at roughly twice the rate of the globe as a whole. When extreme heat waves like this one strike, it stands out to everyone. Scientists are generally reluctant to say “We told you so,” but the record shows that we did.

The question now on the table is will nations led by fools who continually reject science change their practices in the least? Or are the residents of the planet stuck into a downward spiral, refusing to act – for whatever excuses they adopt – until it is too late to halt our collective demise?